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Brown Tells Congress To 'Seize This Moment'

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says an 'economic hurricane' has swept the world and leaders of the United States should not think that it's confined to America's borders. Video by AP

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By Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 5, 2009

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown came to Capitol Hill yesterday "to speak of a global economy in crisis and a planet imperiled," telling a joint meeting of Congress that the two longtime allies must "seize this moment" to confront recession, climate change and Iran's nuclear ambitions.

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Marking a change of the guard since he last visited the United States, Brown thanked President Obama "for giving the world renewed hope in itself," and said that despite a host of challenges, the American people remain "every bit as optimistic as your Roosevelts, your Reagans and your Obamas."

Brown's address came a day after he and Obama met at the White House and pledged to cooperate in drafting new regulations for the global financial system. The prime minister expanded on that theme in his remarks yesterday.

Looking ahead to the G-20 summit in London next month, Brown called for an agreement on "rules and standards for proper accountability, transparency and reward that will mean an end to the excesses and will apply to every bank, everywhere, all the time." And he expressed hope that the world might eventually come together "to outlaw shadow banking systems and offshore tax havens."

Brown's 35-minute address to the dignitaries and lawmakers assembled in the House chamber was interrupted nearly 30 times by applause, with the loudest ovation coming in response to the honoring of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who is undergoing treatment for brain cancer.

Brown announced that Queen Elizabeth II had awarded an honorary knighthood to Kennedy, whom he credited with helping to establish peace in Northern Ireland. Kennedy was not present for the address, but his son Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.) was.

Brown dubbed the alliance between the United States and Britain a "partnership of purpose" that is unbreakable, calling for the two nations to work in concert toward "a two-state solution" for Israel and the Palestinians and to deliver a message to Iran to "cease your threats and suspend your nuclear program" in exchange for the opportunity "to rejoin the world community."

Brown's speech was studded with references to the economic crisis and the importance of the United States and Britain combining forces to confront it. He warned against succumbing "to a race to the bottom and to a protectionism that history tells us that in the end protects no one." He predicted that the world economy would double in size over the next two decades and advised that "we win our future not by retreating from the world, but by engaging with it."

Much of the address had bipartisan appeal, but there were several instances when Democrats in the House chamber leapt up to applaud while Republicans had a more tepid response.

That was true when Brown said: "Wealth must help more than the wealthy. . . . Riches must enrich not just some of us, but all," and when he said he hoped the world would come together "to reach a historic agreement on climate change" at a U.N. environmental conference in Copenhagen in December.

Brown drew loud applause from both parties when he proclaimed: "There is no old Europe, no new Europe; there is only your friend Europe," a pointed reference to former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld calling France and Germany "old Europe" in 2003 because of their opposition to the war in Iraq. Brown closed by calling on the nations to "renew our special relationship for our generation and our times."

Brown's address capped a visit that had so far drawn mixed reviews back home. The British news media took note Tuesday that the White House did not stage a full-dress Rose Garden news conference for Obama and Brown, and that the two leaders did not seem to share the same easy rapport that Brown's predecessor, Tony Blair, did with Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Brown's reception on the Hill yesterday was warm, as many lawmakers jockeyed for seats along the aisle of the House chamber so they could shake the prime minister's hand and get his autograph. But several dozen members of Congress skipped the speech. Their seats in the chamber were taken by House and Senate staff and other guests.

According to the office of the House clerk, Brown's appearance marked the 107th time a foreign leader or dignitary has addressed a joint meeting of Congress, going back to 1874 when King David Kalakaua of Hawaii gave an address.

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